The newest rivalry in the MAC brought us some thrilling games the past few years and these two teams have traditionally been near the top of the MAC. Matt had some questions for Bryan heading into the game.
ME: Ohio fell to Akron in all three match-ups last year, why will this year be different?
BV: Reason No. 1 I don't see that happening this year is that the teams are different. Yes, they're both still front-runners in the East, and yse some big names are still there, but for the most part these are not the same teams that each school fielded last year. Especially in the case of Ohio. The 'Cats this season are more aggressive, more evenly spread out in terms of scoring and have better chemistry. Nick Kellogg isn't just a spot-up shooter anymore, he's the leader. Maurice Ndour is a dynamite player that is nothing like what Ohio fans were used to. He can rebound, swat shots and score. Honestly, he's a perfect reflection of what this team is this season. A bunch of guys who can step up in various areas, because they're good at a lot of things.
I think the loss of Zeke Marshall and Alex Abreu have caused a similarly identity change for Akron. I think Ohio matches up with the Zips much better this year. And unlike Ohio's team last year, this Bobcats squad has no quit.
ME: What were your impressions of the Bobcats' MAC opener with Kent State?
BV: It wasn't fantastic, honestly Ohio on the road never is, but it was a solid performance. Scoring was down, and everyone but Kellogg had an off-night offensively, but they still won. It goes to show just how much heart this Ohio team has this season. Kent State is a damn good squad this year. The Flashes will make some noise, and Ohio outlasted them in a gritty game. T.J. Hall filled in nicely for the injured Ric Johnson and meshed with the other 4 starters well. There's still some work. Ohio still needs better production from the bench, and to control the pace of the game better, but they have the pieces.
ME: What is your biggest concern with Akron on Sunday?
BV: Two words: Demetrius Treadwell. He's already a concern against Ohio. Here's what he did against the Bobcats last year: 15 and 10, 21 and 8, and 13 and 10. He causes so many issues match-up wise that it's hard to defend him. Most bigs can't stick with him because he's too athletic. Guards aren't strong enough to contain him. He's just a nightmare. Quincy Diggs is similar to that, but Treadwell is still the most concerning part of Ohio's match-up with him. With Ric Johnson it would have been less of an issue, because that guy is a ferocious defender, but he's done for the year.
I expect to see Hall and Ndour rotate on Treadwell, and I think Ndour can actually match-up nice with Treadwell, but I'm still nervous because our bigs last year, which were much stronger than Ndour, couldn't stop him inside.
ME: What is your prediction for how the game plays out?
BV: It's really hard to predict these games, which is why I think this one of the better rivalries in all of college basketball over the past few seasons. Throw everything out when Ohio and Akron hit the court because game plans don't matter. These two teams despise one another, and it shows. You won't see more heart, more grit on a basketball court this season. But, since you ask, here's my prediction. I think Akron takes an early lead, behind the likes of Treadwell, who I expect will get his numbers early, and Diggs, who will add even more pressure. But, I think Ohio comes on strong late, and Kellog and Ndour each have huge days once again. I expect this to be a high-scoring affair, in the mid-70s per team, with Ohio squeaking out a 5-point victory.
Bryan also had some questions for Matt heading into the game.
BV: Similar to your question about last year I wonder with the loss of Abreu and Marshall, does this Akron team hold the same advantages it did over Ohio a season ago?
ME: There's a tremendous void left by the departures of Abreu and Marshall. Zeke was outstanding last year against Ohio shooting 17-for-21 averaging about 14 points 9 rebounds and just under 3 blocks per game. Zeke is such a unique player that he cannot be replaced and Akron's advantage with the man in the middle is no longer there.
Akron did defeat Ohio without Abreu in the MAC championship last year, but I think that was more attributable to an uncharacteristically terrible game from DJ Cooper. Abreu was stellar in his two games versus Ohio averaging 18.5 points and 9 assists acting as a leader for the Zips. No one has really stepped up consistently in place of Abreu. Nyles Evans has showed some flashes, but has also had some duds. I expected more out of Carmelo Betancourt this year, but at this point, he fits better as a back-up PG.
BV: On point guards: Alex Abreu is gone, Carmelo Betancourt isn't the answer. I know Diggs has played some point this season, and a new guy, Nyles Evans has had some success, but how concerned are Zips fans about the lack of a true floor general.
ME: Zips fans are very concerned with the lack of a floor general. Abreu improved immensely last season and played a vital role for Akron's mid-season dominance. His departure has led to major struggles at the position and a lot of unforced errors. I think the best plan of action is to have Evans eat the majority of the minutes and live with the growing pains he brings. He has a nice shot, but has yet to show the same distributing ability as Abreu.
BV: I've already mentioned him, but it's been over a year since Ohio fans last saw Quincy Diggs play. How important has his return been for the Zips this season, and just how well is he playing compared to two seasons ago? What differences have you noticed in his game?
ME: Diggs' return for the Zips has been the biggest bright spot this year. He stepped in immediately without too much rust and is a key contributor for the Zips. He's took on a bigger role with the Zips and has been much more aggressive getting to the rim compared to two seasons ago. Unfortunately, this also led to an increase in turnovers and unforced errors that will need to be better managed. It's a great sign that his best game this season was his last going for 21 points and only had one turnover.
BV: Time for your own prediction, how do you see this game, Round 1 if you would, playing out?
ME: I think Ohio will be in control for most of the game with a 5-10 point lead. Akron will make their runs with aggression from Treadwell and Diggs, but I think they will fall short in the end. Akron and Ohio have both dealt with significant departures from last year and I think Ohio has done a better job of replacing their departures. I've been really impressed with Kellogg and Ndour as you mentioned and think they will play a key part in Ohio's victory. Akron has started a little slow this season and has yet to find the groove they need to pull off big road victories against a team like Ohio.